The Kellys don’t bother Elizabeth Taylor, verteran of emergency tracheotomies, pneumonia, Vatican protests, divorce lawyers, Debbie Reynolds’s and Sybil Burton’s spleen, an overpowering mother, a weight problem, and Louis B. Mayer. Nothing bothers Elizabeth Taylor very long. It’s been said over and over that throughout her life Taylor has found a great deal of perspective and conversational solace by detailing her brushes with death. It’s almost as if, by reviewing the detritus, she is able to convince herself that at least she continues to live.
Take the car crash that happened this winter in Israel. “There we were, in torrential rains, crossing a deep ditch, when suddenly a car came up directly behind us and smacked into the stretch limo the five of us were riding in. I went hurling through the air, nothing to stop me, landing with all my weight against the dashboard, my calf swelling about five inches in front of me—I saw it just pop right out! And a hematoma, an enormous hematoma, came out on my back, and there was blood spurting everywhere. Look at this leg of mine. It’s still bruised, it still is so painful. And I couldn’t think about anything but the terrible moaning. The first thing I heard when I found myself on the floor was all these excruciating moans and screams, and someone who was with us had a piece of metal miss his eye socket by a hair, and there we all were, stumbling and bloody—it was so awful, because we were in about five feet of water in the ditch. And we were on our way to Ariel Sharon’s farm, just stuck there. Fortunately an Arab driver happened along and gave us a ride. He didn’t know who we were or what we were doing there. But the irony of us dragging in to Sharon’s farm looking like these bloody refugees. And Sharon put ice packs on all of us and was terribly concerned, getting out blankets, calling the doctors, but what was amazing was that nobody was worried about themselves, everybody just kept saying to each other, ‘Are you all right?’ One man with broken ribs started massaging my hematoma, and I just had to say to him, ‘Stop it. You’re hurt yourself.’ That’s how much we cared.
“You name it, I’ve gone through it,” Elizabeth Taylor said. “I’ve had ups, downs, grays, blacks. I’ve had the most extraordinary life of anyone around.” So she is able to maintain some sense of humor about what is going on. “We’re still feeling our way. We’re rehearsing here, for heaven’s sake. That’s what out of town is for. Of course we have a lot of work to do. This is my first production. Zev and I are going to do a lot of things together—plays, films—and someday I intend to direct.” She laughed. “And believe me, I’ve had the tact not to point out to Richard that now he’s my employee.”
Her new activity is far preferable to that “terrible boredom I had in Virginia after John and I finished campaigning. I was home all the time, I just sort of laid back at that point in my life and didn’t do a thing. Then I began to watch the mindless boob tube. And I ate. I ate out of nerves, nerves, nerves, and got so fat. And then it became everybody’s business unless you’re working. This ‘How much does Elizabeth Taylor weight?’ thing really bores me and annoys me. I’m back near my fighting weight now anyway.”
And what about Joan Rivers’s constant attacks?
“Joan who?” she said. A beat. “Who’s that?” Another beat. “Is she that awful blonde?”
The Joan Rivers jokes she cannot be shielded from, but almost everything else that’s written about Elizabeth Taylor is screened by her entourage, as if she were a head of state. Elizabeth Taylor insists she has never read Kitty Kelley’s unauthorized biography. “It would infuriate me too much.” Her attempt to keep some truth about her life has led her to sue ABC. “The idea that they are going to do a show called The Lives and Loves of Elizabeth Taylor. There is no possible way they could know what was going on unless they were under my carpet or under my bed.”
Elizabeth Taylor tends to view any encounter with journalists as a collision, and avoids them as much as she can. This is a bit peculiar, given the extraordinary publicity gimmick of Taylor and Burton reuniting for Private Lives. Elizabeth Taylor does not dwell on those ironies, however. Now she is a businesswoman, and a pretty good one, her eye fixed on the bottom line. Only once in a while will something really irk her—for example, a recent column item saying she had given her baby granddaughter, Elizabeth Diane (“I think that’s her middle name—I can never remember”), daughter of Maria Burton Carson, a baby-size mink.